Event Recap: UNCORKED! 2013, "Baltimore Rocks!"

Joe Talaiver

I was excited at the opportunity to attend Baltimore Uncorked 2013 with my wife on March 18th at the Baltimore Country Club. The evening was a fundraiser for Moveable Feast and the Foundation of the National Association of Catering and Events (NACE). I was a little unsure of what to expect from this fundraiser but knew it had to be good if it went from 5:00-11:00pm that evening. Walking into the country club it wasn’t immediately clear where to go but the polite staff guided us downstairs. As we got to the bottom flight we were met with walls of deep plush velvet and red lights. This definitely wasn’t what I was expecting for a Country Club fundraiser! Tonight would be a good night.

 

What I quickly learned was that I was entering the event’s interpretation of Baltimore’s infamous “Block”. Throughout the evening we would have opportunities to visit many different neighborhoods of Baltimore represented by different design teams, caterers, and restaurants. Once through the velvet curtains we reached registration. It was well managed and maintained. We had a slight delay as we were pinch hitting for BaltimoreEats but it was quickly resolved. Past check-in we were in a roomy hallway that housed all the items on display for the silent auction. There were definitely some tempting packages ranging from home goods, alcohol gift baskets (that was a first), artwork, and stays at local B&B’s. From there we moved into the room that housed the cocktail hour. Live music and cool lighting made it a nice chance to mingle though there was lack of seating or high tables to rest drinks or food.

 

A nice selection of light hors d’oeuvres to get us started was delivered by Matsuri sushi and one of the many caterers that were in attendance. Due to NACE’s involvement, the event was a veritable fireworks display of catering panache and design. It was difficult just keeping track of the restaurants in attendance let alone the caterers that setup the neighborhoods. Matsuri sushi had a simple selection of Spicy Tuna and California Rolls that were made fresh as they needed more. Definitely a tasty favorite of my wife and me, as their location on Federal Hill is close to her office. I am glad they only had two rolls because oftentimes sushi roll choice takes more time than the consumption. One of the caterers served Crab Tian, Oyster Rockefeller, and Old Bay Shrimp and Grits. The Crab Tian was interesting with lump crab on top of an avocado, tomato, corn base. It had just the right amount of protein to vegetable. Oyster Rock is always a tricky dish with me, either the meat tastes rubbery or they cover it with too much butter sauce to taste anything. This Oyster Rock had the “Goldilocks factor” working for it, it was JUST right. They were all delicious and definitely light enough to just whet the appetite. That was just the appetizer course though!

 

We were invited back upstairs and saw that the entire open space of the Club was converted into several different neighborhoods of Baltimore. The decorations were all distinct and showed off features of the separate areas: Hampden with its pink ‘Hon’ flamingos, Federal Hill with a complete Cross Street Market facade, and also a full outdoor eatery for Little Italy. It was daunting trying to visit all the neighborhoods but we did our best. Best of all throughout the evening attendees were invited to judge and select the “People’s Choice” winner for best neighborhood. We were given wine corks, and when we found a ‘hood we liked we simply added our cork vote to their vase. That was a fun element to the evening on top of the wonderful food.

 

First up was Greektown which featured awesome Greek eats provided by Opa Cafe. The Lamb Slider and Grilled Artichoke Canapé were delicious. The most interesting was the Octopus Bruschetta with peppers and mushrooms. All had unique flavors and great color and presentation. Greektown by far was designed the most beautifully though it felt a little cramped trying to get around since they packed so much in. They definitely had many more choices but we simply couldn’t try them all! Plus we had to pace ourselves for the rest.

 

Next to Greektown was Upton which was representing the classic Royal Theater and Roy’s Restaurant. They had a much simpler offering leaning more on the history of the Upton area. Roy’s actually was serving up a Vintage Pork and Beans recipe which was made popular with canning in the early 20’s and 30’s. The beans were cooked well with generous chunks of pork/bacon in between. This was matched by a flapper style decor and flapper girls. Boas and ostrich feathers were all around with vintage posters of past artists that played at the Royal Theater.

 

We moved onto Mt. Washington which was also a simpler setup but still delicious. Linwood’s was on deck to serve up a nice assortment of dishes. They had “Waves and Meadows” which was their take on surf and turf. It consisted of beef tenderloin and sea bass which was a unique spin on the usual beef with crab or lobster. Also, a nice Grilled Salmon on a Citrus Salad sat next to a colorful dish of corn and cherry tomatoes. All the dishes were very flavorful and presented well. I would have liked the dishes a touch warmer, but I know they were moving a lot food quickly with minimal space for heat lamps or chafing dishes.

 

Federal Hill had to be our next stop as my wife works on the Hill and we immediately recognized the facade of Cross Street Market. Manor Market was there serving up piping hot Lump Crab on a simple bun with local cheese. It was definitely nice to see a cook working on the food right in front of you. Federal Hill had a nice mini hill sitting on a table nearby to show off all the other restaurants on the Hill.

 

Our second favorite neighborhood was Hampden, and boy did they have a showing at the event! The beautiful spread from Hon Cafe included a Bison Burger Slider topped with foie gras, a Mini Mac and Cheese, and best of all Berger Cookie Ice Cream, served in a mini cone nestled in a strawberry with black currant sauce. This was by far a favorite mini meal out of all the dishes served. Deep Eddie Sweet Tea Vodka from Austin, TX, was serving up their spiked Arnold Palmer’s complete with a flamingo straw and mason jar glassware. Very nice touch! Almost everyone that evening left with a mason jar tucked under their arm or in a purse. The other decorations in Hampden were also very beautiful. A chalkboard had hand drawn art to honor the Uncorked event and my wife fell in love with an orchid cube they had put together. It was very Hampden Hon!

 

At this point we were getting full so we had to move fast through the last few neighborhoods. Plus we still hadn’t made our choice for whom would get our corks. Brewers Hill, Home of Natty Boh, was of course set up like a proper pub serving up cold Natty Boh’s with Pork BBQ Sandwiches and Fries. The giant dancing Natty Boh was also a nice touch! He was hugging, posing for pictures, and out National Bohemian bottles and cans complete with custom Uncorked coozies.

 

We quickly checked out Lombard St where they had different Jewish inspired dishes. Sliced Corned Beef on Challah was my favorite dish with the Pastrami-wrapped Miniature Matzo Balls coming in a close second. The decorations for Lombard St definitely made me feel like I was in a corner shop getting some fresh deli meat. The homiest feel came from this neighborhood without a doubt.

 

Thinking we were done we started to wind down when we realized we still hadn’t seen Little Italy and still needed to make our People’s Choice vote. We quickly zipped over to the area and knew we were getting close as we heard live singing of all the Rat Pack classics. Met with a little outdoor cafe layout, Little Italy immediately won our vote. They served up delicious Giant Meatballs with Cheese, blowtorched to a crisp. The starch was a Quatro Fromage Ravioli in a cream sauce. As if those two dishes alone weren’t enough, they had an amazing antipasti spread with all the olives, cheese, prosciutto one could ever want.

 

With our votes in with just enough time, it was time for the awards and our return back down to “The Block”. We were escorted down to the Block by appropriately costumed Police officers. The Block had been converted from quiet cocktail hour location to bumping club complete with police lines, spinning red lights, and a karaoke stage. We still had a treat to eat downstairs in the form of Charm City Cupcakes’s mini slices of Tiramisu cake. They were served in teasing boxes with a label touting “Eat Me”. Very naughty!

 

Before the party kicked off the organizers got up to thank everyone and remind us all about the efforts of Moveable Feast and NACE. The awards were announced and some winners were shoe-ins before they were announced. Most Creative went to Greektown with its beautiful decor, espresso bar, and unity of design. Best Overall Neighborhood was awarded to Lombard Street; I called that one. Best Interpretation of the Baltimore Rocks theme went to Hampden, which was followed by many raised mason jars. Best Food and Beverage Display went to my personal favorite, Little Italy. Then the awaited People’s Choice award went to... Little Italy again! The winners all received bottles of wine and so the Italy crew was very celebratory dual-wielding wines as they began dancing the night away. With that, with our bellies full, and laughter overflowing we called it a night and left right as the karaoke started. This was a great event and one that shouldn’t be missed next year!

View additional photos of the event online here


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